Not to worry the only thing lost was a compost bin. Unfortunately not everyone thinks about how dry things are before throwing coals onto a compost pile. We managed to contain the fire before it spread too much. The biggest loss, all the precious water we had to use to contain that fire.
I am covered in dust from head to toe. My skin itches from handling bales of hay, and I feel really dirty because we have to ration water during this dry season.
As many of you are aware, we are starting up a Horse Therapy program, and you might be asking yourself, "WHY?"
There are moments in my day when I am sweating outside running around a round pen training the new ponies that were given to us, that I ask myself that same question.
"What was I thinking?" crosses my mind as I shovel poop out of a stall. But then, I bury my face in a freshly combed horse mane (the cleaner she gets, inevitably, the dirtier I am), and I remember. That smell takes me to a place back when I was 14... I could bury my face in a horse's mane and not have a care in the world. He trusted me, and I him. He listened, not only to my stories, but to my cues when I asked him to carry me on his back. He was my friend. I used to read the bible looking for every horse scripture I could find. (There are many, by the way). I wanted to continue spending time with these beautiful creatures, but my, at the time newly divorced, parents sold my horse when I went off to Bible college.
Move forward to a few years ago, I didn't know anything about equine assisted therapy. Donors helped us buy our farm, and I knew immediately, I wanted a horse. I wanted my kids to learn to muck out stalls, clean tack, brush fuzzy horses, and learn how to ride, all the while having an amazing experience bonding with a creature whose history is marked with changing the world through their loyalty and sacrifice.
In my search for an affordable horse, I came upon a lady named Sue Anderson who was running a Riding for Disabled program in Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya. She had a horse she needed to place in a home immediately due to bad behaviour. We offered to take him on. When we went to her home, we helped with the therapy program as 'sidewalkers'. It was a thrilling experience seeing the children's faces light up, watching them do the exercises and seeing how it affected their core strength. Up until that point, I had NO idea that horses could actually help disabled children physically. (Keep in mind, I have lived outside of the Western world for 12 years). Seeing 'Horse Therapy' sparked a curiosity in me to find out more.
Meanwhile, we had a new horse to care for who was naughty and traumatised, BUT he was ours (along with a bunch of tack Sue didn't need, too). Now, our daughter Edith had a difficult time adopting me. She is my daughter, but our start was a bit rough. She hardly spoke a word to me in seven years. I will skip the details now, but in short, when I put Edith on a horse, suddenly, she became more open with me. Maybe she felt accepted? Or maybe she realised that she was 'one of us?' Whatever the reason, she and I have finally connected. Having that naughty horse was one of the best things we could have done. My daughter Edith is finally a Brooks to her core.
So over the next few years from 2014-2016, I found myself doing more research on horse therapy. I took Makena, Butterfly, Haley, who is my friend who works with disabled kids in Nakuru, and Starlette back to Sue's in Nairobi to learn how to do horse therapy. All the while, I was being told by someone that posting photos of our horse would cause us to lose donations because they have a stigma of being costly. I felt guilty for owning him. I am the kind of person who loves self-denial. I won't buy things for myself. I feel guilty if I eat anything extremely delicious or sugary. I wear ONLY second hand clothes and shoes, etc... It is just how I am... So I started calculating costs to justify having a horse, and it turned out he cost less to keep than one of our dogs.
Then it happened. I was standing in my bedroom with its cow dung covered, mud-cracked walls thinking, praying, meditating about how our Kenyan daughters are growing up and in a few years, they will be finding their own path... Having given our entire lives to these girls, this is a big transition...What are we going to do? The scarier question yet, what do I WANT to do? (Self denial type people like me have a difficult time enjoying things without LOADS of guilt). So I treaded lightly as I delved into the possibilities of what would bring me joy and help the human race, as well... This was a terribly scary question that I was afraid to ask... Then, the answer floated up out of my soul and consumed me in a way that made me feel excited, happy. overjoyed and terrified all at the same time! Horse therapy is what I WANT to do!
"But it is impossible." responded my husband when I shared my heart with him. (As was his response to me telling him we should move to Africa, or take in orphan teens, or buy land...) "No one will support it." And so the push and shove began, just like it has happened every time in the past when I suggested we move our little ship a different direction...
This blog is one way, though admittedly we fail to keep it as updated as we should. Kate is a prolific Facebooker and therefore following her there is the best way to stay up on what is happening. I am there as well, plus A Future and a Hope has a page. Both Kate and I are on Twitter, though admittedly neither of us caught the tweet bug. We use Instagram, Goodreads, and I even joined this new thing called Mewe. My all time favorite is email.
We exist off the generosity of others. It is not always easy to accept that we must fund raise in order to survive and do what we are doing. Yet it has become easier over the years to come to appreciate the help and see how it is a way for others to be involved in what we do. Kate and I have made a commitment to each other that our interactions with people, i.e. potential donors, is not about raising money but is about relationship first. The fund raising comes second, third, if at all.
All our income comes from donations. We are not able to work for profit in Kenya, and actually work full time on the project so there is little time to do business. When you send a donation through PayPal or the mail it is deposited in the bank in California and sent to us here in Kenya. Bob, who helps with the banking, does not take a cut. The banks do of course, but we get the bulk of it. (Kate works at negotiating exchange rates and is super friendly with the bank people on this side. Which means we tend to get good rates.)
We use that money to help create hopeful futures for children here in Kenya. Kate and I do not take a salary, though our basic needs are met through the project. Works great for everything except retirement planning.
We cannot promise eternal or earthly rewards for the gifts you give. (Though I have seen the law of sowing and reaping over and over in my life.) We will not send you a gift for giving, at least not all the time. We will pray for you and think of you often, and we will appreciate what you give. To the best of our abilities we use the money to sustain our lives and bring hope to children here in Kenya.
Here is how you can give:
Make check out to A Future and a Hope and mail to:
A Future and a Hope c/o Bob Humphrey 7909 Walerga Rd STE 112-141
Weekend is just over the horizon. I wonder if I can manage to pull off doing nothing this weekend? My guess is that with fifteen children, farm animals, and trees to water the answer will be a resounding no. Sigh. Someday a weekend will come that will bring the blessed nothingness.
Last night during dinner preparations our gas cylinder needed replacing. (No piped cooking gas in the house we use cylinders. You know like the ones you take camping, only these are bigger.) Fortunately we have two. Unfortunately the replacement has a problem with the nozzle or whatever you call that thing. So dinner was cooked over coals. Not as convenient, but more African. In fact we had a Kenyan dish. I suppose it was appropriate we cooked it on a jiko over charcoal.
Busy day today. I, Johnny, will be Kate's driver as she places orders for lumber to build three more animal stalls and collects various bits and pieces for that project in Nakuru. There is still an ongoing fund raiser to help with these costs. The stalls will house animals related to the horse therapy and another cow. (At least the cow is planned right now. We might change our minds and do goats.) Thankfully Kate generally rewards my driving her around with nice food, perhaps Chinese today?
Today we celebrate Edith's birthday. She was the first Kenyan girl to move in with us back in 2007. She was a spunky little four year old at the time who adjusted to being with us quickly. Now at fourteen she can be quiet as a mouse or loud as a lion. She is allergic to work, but quick to help out with Starlette (our one year old.) Lasagna is her favorite food, and she likes playing games on the IPad.
Edith starts her class eight this week in primary school. The final year. It is a big year for Kenyan school children. The test at the end determines where you can go to secondary school. We are sure she will do fine and hopefully can even enjoy this final year of primary school.
Since it is January, our hot time of the year, we are going to go swimming in town at a place called Kivu. When we get back there will be a giant chocolate chip cookie made and some kind of beef stir fry thing for dinner.
One of the fringe benefits of moving onto The Shire (our almost twelve acres here in rural Kenya) was Kate was able to rekindle her love for horses. Almost immediately after we moved she began a search for a horse. She learned quickly that finding a horse that we could afford here in Kenya was not easy. In fact it was almost impossible. She met many people with horses and made new friends along the way. Still no horse. When she was almost frantic with the quest, her search led her to an organization in Nairobi that used horses as therapy animals for disabled children. This organization gave her a horse that was not suitable for their use. This began our journey with horses and more importantly gave us a way to help more children.
I do not understand the bond Kate has with horses. They are not animals that I appreciate and I have never had a bond with anything other than a dog. Yet it does exist with some people, and especially with children. A child and a horse share something between themselves. There are benefits to the relationship, even if it is a fleeting encounter. Reminds me of a scene from this documentary we watched about horses with a guy named Martin Clunes. He ends up in a pen with a horse and just after looking into the animal's eyes has an emotional moment. If I remember correctly there were tears and all. Seemed silly at first to me, but I try and respect other's experiences. I tried it out. Stared into a horse's eye. It did not have the same effect on me, but after observing the eyes and the sense of thoughtfulness behind them, I can understand the connection some people feel they have with these animals.
Horses make good therapy animals. The children get to ride the horse and it actually helps with their muscle development. Really. Amazing to think about. It is no miracle cure, but for these children even little advances can seem like miracles. It has to do with the way the horse moves and then the children have to utilize muscles to stay balanced and sitting up. These muscles do not normally get this exercise. Over time it can help them to sit up better and perhaps even walk better.
There is also the emotional boost to the child. Unfortunately disabled people do not have much reason to be happy here in Kenya. We have encountered almost unbelievable situations involving disabled children and young adults in Nakuru. Including one young man chained to a wall. What I am trying to say that bringing even an hour or so of happiness to these children is worthwhile. They get to ride a horse. Many if not all of them have never even seen a horse, and now they get to touch and sit on one. The smiles and giggles have an impact on their well being.
“Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.”
That is a quote from the character Galadriel in one of the Lord of the Rings movies. One of my favorite lines from the movies. It captures one of the core truths of the Lord of the Rings trilogy; that size does not determine fate. Size can also be translated to power or in our context of 2017 access to resources (funds.) Even the smallest can have an impact on someone's life.
Kate and I are little when compared to other folks and organizations working with orphans. We do not have the fund raising abilities of bigger organizations. We cannot hire a professional fund raiser who will do the work for us. We have to do it ourselves. Which honestly is alright by us.
Back in 2004 when we were planning on coming back to Kenya I really felt that we should not attempt raising money in typical missionary fashion. Meaning that we would not travel around raising a certain percentage of support before moving to Kenya. Instead we sent out a letter to everyone we knew and got on a plane. We arrived in Nairobi with four hundred dollars to our name and have not looked back since. Not the smartest thing to do when compared say to most mission agencies or something like the Red Cross. However, going against the grain is something we do well, and we needed to learn to depend on someone other than ourselves.
We survived and have in fact thrived over the past twelve years. Sure we always need money (currently we need money for paying school fees, plus we want to get at least five more children in school this month,) and we are jealous from time to time of those folks working with organizations that can provide them with salaries, vacations, vehicles, and access to resources for the work. (We are especially jealous of those vacations.) We do enjoy our freedom and ability to connect with those we want to help and we even have relationships, bonafide relationships with our donors. We know the day to day struggle and that helps us to help others.
We are small, but we are changing the future. One child at a time. Frodo in the Lord of the Rings story, was a tiny hobbit. He did not have any power or influence outside of the world of hobbits. Yet it was him and his trusty servant Sam that changed the course of the third age. In fact it could not have been done by anyone else. There is a place for those big organizations. They can do wonders in disaster situations and when it comes to distributing large quantities of relief aid. There is also a place, in fact I believe most places, for the small guys. We can pinpoint aid in ways that an institution cannot. We know those we assist. We can tailor that assistance to best help them and bring them to a place where they no longer need us. It is in the interest of those working for big organizations for the people they assist to keep needing that assistance. Kate and I are interested in the opposite. We want those we help to grow and be able to stand on their own. Then they stand with us and turn around and help the next guy up. Being small enables us to do this.
We talk about bringing hope to orphans and abandoned children here in Kenya often, daily in fact. The truth of the matter is that for the majority of these children the future does not contain that much hope. There are exceptions of course. Kenya does have some families that provide for these children, but those families are the exception rather than the rule. Most of these children end up watching life from the sidelines, often while they are working as maids and/or herders.
Our mission, or goal, here in Kenya is to put these children into the game. Get them off the bench and in a place where hope can blossom. I wrote yesterday that loving them is easy, which it is. That is the first step to creating hope. Unfortunately it is not always enough. Many of these children have become so accustomed to not being loved nor wanted that it can and will take a lifetime for them to get to a place where they can embrace that love. In the meantime we have to be creative in our efforts to break through. We have to show love by providing for material needs, but we also have to go beyond that. Kenya has a culture of receiving aid or perhaps it is better to say there is a culture of expecting aid. These children really do need help with food, school, health, and clothing. No doubt about it. Yet there needs to be a person, not an institution behind that help. Someone who can be loving and tough at the same time. You know, parental where there are no parents willing to step up. (Big example here is sex. Teens here in Kenya engage in unprotected sex at an alarming rate. Partly because there are no parents teaching them the dangers of casual unprotected sex and the beauty of sex in a committed relationship. Sex education is coming primarily through media.)
We all have stories of someone in our childhood who had a profound impact on us. Teachers, coaches, pastors, uncles, and anyone who took the time to put some effort into our lives. Kate and I want to be that someone for children here in Kenya. Certainly we have and are having a major impact on the nine girls that came to live with us more than eight years ago. Their lives are full of hope and dreams for the future. (Not all of them are reasonable dreams, but each year the planning of the future gets more realistic. Just the dreaming of the future is a huge breakthrough.) They not only have us in their lives but other people that we know as well. Friends and family interact with them and have a chance to be a part of bringing them hopeful futures. Because they do not have to fear for tomorrow they have a chance to develop relationships and experience life on their own terms.
These girls needed us and we needed them. (Why we needed them is a post for another day.)
For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.
I do not do resolutions, but I do take a moment each January 1st to reflect back. This morning I take a look back at the past year and try to evaluate not if I was a success or a failure at my endeavors, but rather was I human or not. Did I do the things that make Johnny a better man or did I just coast through life? Am I a positive or negative impact on life?
My forty-third birthday was in November. There is no doubt about it, I am a grown up. Full size. I no longer need to be told what to do and when to do it. (Though I am still learning how to do many things, but then again so should everyone.) Mommy does not need to hold my hand as I cross the road. I know what it is I am to be doing with my life, and in 2017 just like 2016, I will continue to do what it is I am meant to be doing.
Which is what?
I, along with my wife Kate, work here in Kenya to bring as much hope for a future, to as many children without hope, as possible. Each and everyday in 2017 will be spent working towards that goal of hopeful futures. You see we learned a secret about nine years ago; it is not hard to love a child. Love is easy. We learned to unlearn all the platitudes, cultural hype, and marketing that taught us that love is hard. It is not. Loving a child who has lost her parents is one of the easiest things in the world. Try it, you will find it to be simple. (Liking a difficult child, that on the other hand is not easy. Loving and liking are two different things. It is nice when they work together, but when they do not one can still love a child or adult whom one does not like.)
The hard part is caring for that child day in and day out for as long as it takes. When we took in the nine orphaned/abandoned girls that became part of our lives we found loving them came easy. In fact from the first moment we laid eyes on them we were able to express love towards them. Inviting these young ladies to live with us as family was one of the easiest invitations we have ever given. Feeding them, now that has proven to be more difficult. Clothing fifteen children (9 plus our 6 biological) makes you appreciate nudist philosophy. Working out disciplinary issues is not as simple as hugging and saying "I love you."
We are still loving and caring for these children in 2017. Not everything looks the same as it did in previous years, but the love has not waned. In fact it has increased. Combining love and care is the way to start restoring hope.
I hope your New Years celebrations are fun, we will be celebrating Starlette's first birthday today. I look forward to continuing to journey with you and working together as we strive to bring hope to the hopeless in 2017.